Amory can’t tell if she’s hallucinating or if someone is taking pictures of her.
Last Lines: She can’t tell if she is delirious or if he was really snapping pictures of her. The stress of the past months must be clouding her rationality. Amory can’t shake the thought from her mind as she tries to steal some rest before starting the cycle all over again. If only she weren’t so tired.
About two months into her ethics program, Amory lies shivering on her cot while a fierce El Niño storm rages outside. Fifty mile-per-hour winds, barrage her window throughout the night, savagely knocking the glass and screaming with the force of the dead. Freezing rain leaks through the frame and pools on the cold concrete floor under Amory’s cot, gradually trickling up the legs and soaking the fabric. Amory struggles to cover her body with her single, threadbare blanket, but her feet stick out of the end and rely on socks filled with holes to keep them warm.
Her fingers and toes are purple when her watch pounds on the door to wake her.c
“Some storm outside!” he shouts through the closed metal.
She tries to bring life back to her frozen body by bending her knees and wiggling her fingers and toes. Once she is confident her legs will support her weight, she stands to get dressed. She pulls her jeans to her waist, but the denim folds over itself as she cinches her belt tight enough to keep it in place. Her t-shirt, now a size too large, hangs loosely on her body and disguises the strong muscles that have formed on her arms, shoulders, and back. She easily ties the dirty gray scarf to her upper left arm, expertly looing the fabric with her right hand and teeth.
Moments later she looks for Garret, her watch for the day, in the hall, but he has disappeared. She searches for him and sees him down the hall a few rooms. She’s grown accustomed to someone always being there, so the change seems odd.
He sees her looking around, and says, “You’ve got a friend now.”
“Friend?” she asks, surprised at the word.
Garrett meanders back to Amory’s room, confidently pulling his sagging pants back up to his waist. He continues, “They don’t think you’re going to try and kill yourself again, so you and Lucas will be sharing a watch from now on.”
Amory curls her upper lip at the name. Lucas is the last person she wants to spend her days with. “As long as he doesn’t get in my way,” she says, “we’ll be fine.”
The three of them ride the bus to the Celebrity Center in silence, Amory refusing to acknowledge Lucas. When they reach their destination, she speeds ahead of him, charging forth into the blustering storm.
Lucas runs to catch up to her, calling to her back, “Are you just going to ignore me all day?”
Amory keeps walking, disregarding his question. As they enter the building, she finally asks him, “Why are you here?” She knows he was a downstat months ago, but she hasn’t heard any gossip since she’s been in the ethics program.
“I’m routing out,” he says. “Can’t handle this place anymore.” He wipes the water from the lenses of his glasses, and tucks a wet, stray curl behind his ear.
Amory folds her arms across her chest and snips, “Don’t think we’re friends just because we’re sharing a watch.” She turns her back and walks away. The last person she wants to associate with is Lucas. Other than rumors, all Amory knows about him is that he’s from Denmark, his mom is a commanding officer in the Flag liaison office, and he’s in CMO like she is. She is not excited about being so close to a perpetual downstat, someone who could easily delay her progress.
At the Celebrity Center, Garret finds the foreman and checks them in. The project for the day is running electrical lines. They are installing boxes in the ceiling for overhead lighting. Amory has become pretty good at this kind of work and feels confident about her skills. Lucas walks upstairs so that he can catch the wires she feeds up to him. Amory cuts a small hole in the drywall next to the electrical outlet and fishes the line up the open cavity behind the wall. She aims straight for Lucas, whose boyish face she sees smiling down at her. He reaches down for it, but his hands keep missing the target. Amory says, “Here, let’s try this again,” trying to hide her annoyance. “I’m going to feed this right up to you. All you need to do is catch it.”
He says, “I know, I know. I’ll catch it this time. Don’t worry.” There is something calm in his demeanor. He acts as if he has all the time in the world to complete the task.
Amory is not used to working with people like this. “Ok, here goes.” She fishes the wire back up to him, this time more slowly. She wants him to see it, follow it with his eyes before he tries to grab it. “Got it?” she asks.
He reaches down, but fails. “Oh, missed again. But we were close that time. Let’s try again.”
His voice makes Amory’s skin crawl. Amory waits, impatiently tapping her foot.
Lucas stops to wipe the dirt and sweat off his glasses. When he’s finished, he says, “Maybe I can see better now.”
“Try to get it right this time,” she barks. “I don’t want to be working on this wire all day.” Under normal circumstances, Amory would need to file a knowledge report against Lucas for his behavior. He keeps making errors, thus slowing the progress of the project.
Finally, he catches the wire, and attaches it to the overhead light before descending the ladder. As his feet hit the floor, Amory and Lucas hear the crackle of heat and see sparks overhead. The electrical box erupts in blue and yellow flames that dance across the ceiling in an improvised performance of destruction and quickly run down the inside cavity of the wall, leaving a trail of black.
Amory screams, “Fire!” and Lucas freezes in place. Garrett runs to get a fire extinguisher. Everyone in the building drops what they’re doing and stares at Amory and Lucas.
“Get the foreman!” Amory shouts.
Garrett runs to the flames, extinguisher in hand. He opens the value and douses the fire in carbon dioxide. “Someone kill the circuit breaker!” He shouts, his voice shaking with anger.
Amory watches in disbelief as the chemicals smother the flames. Everything she has been building has been destroyed. She turns to Lucas and yells at him, “You did this! This is all your fault!” Before he can reply, she storms through the exit, and finds a path around the building that she walks as a track, the wind and rain howling in her face. She counts one hundred and six steps on her first lap.
As she begins her second lap, Lucas runs outside, trying to catch up to her. She ignores his pleas of “Wait! Amory, wait!” and she continues to speed around the jobsite, shielding herself from the storm with her arm.
After four laps, she stops in front of Lucas, who is sitting on a low wall next to the building exit. From a few feet away, Amory yells at him, “What have you done? We’re both screwed now!”
“This is not my fault,” Lucas responds calmly. “Everything in that building is suspect. There hasn’t been one inspection by the city, not one.”
“If you weren’t here,” Amory’s anger builds with each word, “that fire would have never happened!” Her reprimand is cut short by the foreman walking towards them, Garrett in tow.
“What the hell happened in there?” He yells at them.
Amory points at Lucas, and says defensively, “It was him. Lucas did it.”
“I don’t care which one of you did it. Both of you report immediately to OSA.” He heads back to the building, and yells over his shoulder, “And you can forget about lunch and dinner today!”
Amory’s thin hands shake. OSA is Daisy’s office, the last place she wants to be. She takes a deep breath and holds it in while closing her eyes, an act which typically calms her down. However, today, she is in no mood to be composed. She decides to let herself feel the full impact of her fury. She explodes at Lucas, “Why do you have to ruin my life? You’re a piece of shit downstat who can’t even wire an outlet! What is wrong with you?” When she is finished yelling, her hands rattle at her sides.
In a voice hardly louder than a whisper, he says, “Nothing is wrong with me.” He remains as calm as he was when the day began. “You’re the one who has no clue how to treat people. But I guess that’s not your fault,” he says with true sincerity.
Amory bristles and continues to pace around the room. She counts nineteen, twenty steps, the familiar ritual doing little to calm her rage. She does not understand what he said, even as she replays his words in her mind. Her confusion only makes her anger grow, and she shouts, a little softer this time, “You don’t know anything about me.” Amory wipes her wet hair from her eyes. Her clothes are soaked from the downpour, but she doesn’t seem to notice.
“I know more than you think,” he says. “I know The Church, so I know you.” Lucas sits down against the wall, protecting himself from the icy rain pelting the concrete.
Scenes from the Next:
Amory and Lucas receive their punishment at OSA.